From where I stand: “I never gave up and I am learning everyday”


Globally, 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked, and 56 per cent of them are women, according to latest data from The World Bank. The trend continues in Africa, where up to 95 million unbanked adults receive cash payments for agricultural products, and 65 million save using semiformal methods. Lack of access to banking services and financial skills such as savings, budgeting and debt management, means women who are already poor, have little or no means to invest, retire or build a cushion against emergencies. In humanitarian crisis, these challenges are compounded. Esperance Mutegwaraba, 61, fled the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012 along with 30,000 refugees.

Esperance Mutegwaraba. Photo: Novella Nikwigize/UN Women, 2019
Esperance Mutegwaraba. Photo: Novella Nikwigize/UN Women, 2019

Escaping war along with my four children and four grandchildren, and a young orphan girl I was really tough… we had nowhere to sleep, and nowhere to go. My husband and I were separated.

I came to this refugee camp in June 2012. My children are my motivation to stay here, because if I take them back to Congo, they will not be able to finish their studies.

I was so excited when I was selected to be trained in UN Women’s programme in the refugee camp! We are learning how to weave beautiful baskets that Indego Africa sells all over the world. We receive orders and we get paid through personal bank accounts that we opened as part of the programme, a first for me. Our cooperative, Igisubizo (The Solution) earned around 300,000 Rwandan francs (USD 340) from its first order.

In the six years that I’ve spent in the refugee camp, this is the first time that I have somewhere to go and be productive, meet other women, share experiences and comfort each other. I am 61 years old; the other women call me “Taté” (granny). Earlier, people used to doubt that I was capable of working, because of my age. But the programme raised my confidence, and despite the many failed attempts at weaving baskets in the beginning, I never gave up and I am learning everyday with the support of the trainers.

In my hometown, the only available work for women would be farming or domestic work; we were not expected to work together in cooperatives or speak in public. Coming here really taught us a lot, this is knowledge that I will use if I go back to the Congo.

We have learned how to manage our finances and we save 10 per cent of what we earn in our accounts. Even though it’s just the beginning, I can already feel the impact on my family, and this gives me hope for their future…the programme opened doors for me that I never knew existed.”

SDG 1: No poverty
SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth

Because of her age and illiteracy, Esperance Mutegwaraba wasn’t getting opportunities to work until she enrolled into a UN Women-supported programme run by Indego Africa, which trains refugee women in entrepreneurial skills. Funded by the Government of Sweden, the programme also teaches refugee women financial skills, has facilitated their membership in a cooperative and gives them access to credit and banking service.